By Connor Balcome
A young woman’s tortured past is helping to raise awareness for human rights today.
Marina Nemat was born in 1965, and raised in Tehran, Iran. Her father was a dance instructor and her mother was a hairstylist. She was arrested, put in prison, tortured, and eventually given the death sentence for publicly speaking out against the Islamic Government.
In 1979, when the Iranian Revolution started, Nemat was only 13-years-old. She was arrested at age 16 and placed in Evin Prison, in Tehran. There, she was beaten and was forced to listen to the gunshots that killed her friends. At age 18, she escaped because one of the guards fell in love with her.
“I was forced to marry him,” said Nemat. “He threatened to imprison my family, so I had no choice.”
Her first husband was killed during the Revolution. She re-married in secret to a young electrical engineer. They immigrated to Canada in 1991 and live in the Toronto area.
Moving Past Iran
Nemat currently teaches at the University of Toronto, and has written two books about her past: Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir (2008), and After Tehran: A life Re-claimed. The books have been translated into more than 20 languages.
Nemat now travels around the world talking to younger generations about the hidden terrors and controversies that happen in countries like Iran.
“I recently spoke in the London School of Economics, as well as three different events at the University of Ontario,” says Nemat. “On February 18, 2013, I spoke at the Human Rights Convention in Geneva, Switzerland. Last year, I spoke at the San Francisco Freedom Forum.”
On March 10, 2013, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hugged the mother of Hugo Chavez at his funeral. Islamic leaders criticized Ahmadinejad because touching an unrelated woman is considered forbidden. Nemat considers this to be an example of the hypocrisy in some countries’ governments.
“If you touch a woman you are not related or married to in Iran, police can ask you to produce a document confirming relationship,” says Nemat. “If you do not have this document, you can be sent to prison.”
Interview with Marina Nemat.
Nemat has received death threats from the Iranian Government for publicly speaking out, which she keeps on her computer in a file titled “Threats”.
However, despite the threats she has received, Nemat has worked hard to spread the word to people around the globe about what she went through.
Nemat’s next visit will be to Montreal, to speak at the Echenberg Family Conference at McGill University, on March 21.